Small Fork Day (and the Wedding, still going on)

Sneaky undergroud roots of my enemy, with something lovely in the background

Good morning, and for readers in the UK, happy Bank Holiday weekend. I need to get some gardening done! Spring is not in the air, but it is nearly here. I have much work to do to meet it. That work is the Battle Between Good and Evil in the Garden.

My Deeside patch is largely sand, despite 20 years of importing manure from the horse field up the road. And in this very easy-going sandy soil, so easy to slink through, lives my secret and then not so secret enemy: Couchgrass.

Couchgrass! The insidious underground creeper! I realised about 17 years ago that Couchgrass, secretive, entangling, hidden from sight, would never be defeated, would always be with me, whether I could see its brittle white tentacles or not.

A garden is an exercise in patience and courage and hope. There is always something nasty in the garden – ah Milton, thou should’st be living at this hour – you can’t get rid of it, you can’t  create a little clean patch where no bad stuff is, it’s not the nature of the planet! No, our job is to dream, and plant, but also to prop, prune, bind and tie, and to wield the small fork when necessary.

To make the best garden you can, even while the weeds, led by  the ringleader, Couchgrass, keep coming back at you, is the task of a lifetime. Poetry helps. And sharp forks.  Today, Couchgrass, is Small Fork Day. Beware the small fork.

But before I turn to Couchgrass, I turn to poetry. I’ve been reading Prothalamion, and I’m planning to finish it today. We were up to this bit:

Then forth they all out of their baskets drew
Great store of flowers, the honour of the field,
That to the sense did fragrant odours yield,
All which upon those goodly birds they threw,
And all the waves did strew,
That like old Peneus’ waters they did seem,
When down along by pleasant Tempe’s shore,
Scattered with flowers, through Thessaly they stream,
That they appear through lilies’ plenteous store,
Like a bride’s chamber floor.
Two of those nymphs meanwhile, two garlands bound,
Of freshest flowers which in that mead they found,
The which presenting all in trim array,
Their snowy foreheads therewithal they crowned,
Whilst one did sing this lay,
Prepared against that day,
Against their bridal day, which was not long:
      Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.

I want to read this very fast now, having broken my fear, and cleared some of my own anxiety about the Greek stuff. It’s not a poem for long and repeated contemplation (like for example Derek Walcott’s Love After Love, a poem much-read in many Shared Reading groups, and which I’ve found I can come back to time after time. Not like any poem by George Herbert, whom I want to read tomorrow.) In the catalogue of poems, it’s a happy song, and the lyrics are sweet, but not deep. The verse above is all flowers (ha! no couchgrass here!). The nymphs dressing the swans in crowns of flowers. One nymph sings the following verse, which I am skipping over. It’s a  blessing and a  looking to a happy future. The bridal party approaches London, and Spenser is moved to remember, for a moment his own situation (remember how at the beginning, he was worried about some workplace matter?). Now they are near the Inns of Court (I’m guessing)

Next whereunto there stands a stately place,

Where oft I gained gifts and goodly grace
Of that great lord, which therein wont to dwell,
Whose want too well now feels my friendless case.
But ah, here fits not well
Old woes but joys to tell
Against the bridal day, which is not long:
      Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.

Spenser is out of favour, perhaps out of favour with a great Lord (who? haven’t looked up, don’t know my history) ‘whose want too well now feels my friendless case.’ A moment of tricky syntax, where even though we’re motoring now, a reader would want to go carefully and make sure she’d understood. The want of the great lord’s favour: I’m reading want as absence, lack. This lack ‘too well now feels’  – it is interesting that as soon as the idea of the loss, the absence of favour comes into mind, Spenser despite being in the middle of a rather glorious wedding – feels it, feels the nub of it, ‘friendless’. And yet he is at the wedding! so ‘here fits not well / Old woes but joys to tell’. And yet he can’t now get political thoughts out of his mind. Can’t help but wonder why he has let this into the poem, must have some relevance…need to look at a footnote!

Had a quick look at Wikepedia. Hmm, helps a bit. It’s a double marriage! Makes sense that the two swans are the two brides, not the bridegrooms. That’s why they are so white. I should have seen that in the poem itself.  The nymphs are bridesmaids…Wonder if  the next bit  is about the father of the women getting married? It’s a trumpet blast of praise, like raising a toast;

Yet therein now doth lodge a noble peer,
Great England’s glory, and the world’s wide wonder,
Whose dreadful name late through all Spain did thunder,
And Hercules’ two pillars standing near
Did make to quake and fear:
Fair branch of honour, flower of chivalry,
That fillest England with thy triumph’s fame,
Joy have thou of thy noble victory,
And endless happiness of thine own name
That promiseth the same:
That through thy prowess and victorious arms,
Thy country may be freed from foreign harms;
And great Elisa’s glorious name may ring
Through all the world, filled with thy wide alarms,
Which some brave Muse may sing
To ages following,
Upon the bridal day, which is not long:
      Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.

Here I am near the end but the couchgrass is calling…I feel as if Prothalamion has been a kind of poetry work-out… I like the flowers, the Thames, the slow rich joy of it, and the sunny atmosphere. I’m interested in the poet mentioning but putting aside his own difficulties (but is it odd,  or a pointed  political act, to leave them in the finished poem?). I don’t regret it because spending a couple of hours on it has clarified something: I want a poem that is more than story or song. The bit I’m most interested in here is Spenser’s own state of being. I want more of that. Which is why I’m reading George Herbert tomorrow.

Forks awaiting the call to arms